As the weather drops to mind-numbing temperatures—ones I've only ever had nightmares about save for four years in Wisconsin where I met such conditions with distressing regularity—I find myself seeking out comfort. Comfort foods, plush blankets, soft clothing, fuzzy socks, et al. My wintertime hibernation is in full swing and while I don't fancy myself a homebody, my planned activities are starting to prove otherwise. Aside from the obvious, it's cold outside so I'm trying to stay warm inside, I realized my recent penchant for steamy, hearty comfort foods has a lot to do with Ayurveda. It's Vata season, folks. Let me explain.
Ayurveda—an ancient Indian healing modality that’s been around for more than 5000 years, emphasizes a holistic and balanced approach to wellness. It revolves around three doshas, or energies, that make up each individual. How the three doshas appear, and in what proportion, is what makes each of us unique. The exact ratio of these doshas moves around naturally in all of us, varying based on time of year or seasons in our lives. All of this has an influence in our habits—what we eat, how we react, and various lifestyle choices. Vata, the air dosha, is someone who generally gets cold easily, and often they're told to eat warming foods to resolve any imbalances. So, Vata season is a time when we're all craving those hearty, feel-good, warming favorites. I want to satisfy my appetite for comfort just as much as nourishing my body with nutrient-rich, healthy foods. With that in mind, I reached out to a few authorities on the subject, nutritionists and holistic food experts, for their best warm food-related advice. To be clear, these aren't Ayurvedic-specific offerings, just ones you're sure to find endlessly delicious.
Soups and Stews
Of course, soups and strews are the first on the list when it comes to warming winter foods. In this case, each expert suggested a few plant-based options filled with a ton of nourishing vegetables, as well as some with lean proteins like chicken and turkey. Another interesting fact? These foods can also keep your skin hydrated while they make you feel good. "We want to be mindful that winter skin needs more hydration and moisture, as the cold and wind tend to have a very drying effect," notes Karin L. Hermoni, PhD, the head of science and nutrition at Lycored. "Soup is a great way to warm our insides and keep us hydrated," she continues. "If we can include a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables in our recipes, they work even better together."
Naomi Whittel, the New York Times bestselling author of Glow15 and founder of Simply Good Fats agrees: "Soups and stews are beneficial any time of the year when you’re feeling fatigued, but the change of season makes it so your immune system could especially use the support." She laments the idea that the abundance of nutrients in the broth, as well as the well-cooked veggies and meats, are easier on your digestion. "[They] allow your body to conserve some of the resources it would normally spend on the digestion of raw and less easily digestible foods, and instead uses them for healing and repair," Whittel says, adding "They're perfect for helping to balance hormones and build blood."
1. Vegetable Soups
For a diverse variety that provides synergistic antioxidant benefits (and lots of fluids) try a soup made from your favorite vegetables. "Broccoli or cauliflower, which are vegetables from the cruciferous family, are rich in polyphenol and antioxidants," notes Hermoni. "Plus," she says, "any combination of 'orange' vegetables—carrots, sweet potato, squash, and pumpkin, for example—are rich in beta carotene, which you may know as vitamin A, and other carotenoids (naturally-occurring pigments in vegetables that offer protective health benefits) like lutein."
2. Tomato-Based Soups
"Tomato soup with rosemary offers extra carotenoids like red carotenoid lycopene," Hermoni says. And, if you're looking for animal-based protein to boost your iron levels she suggests ground chicken or turkey chili—those recipes offer up the same flavorful and healthful tomato sauce and carrots with some added heartiness.
Jackfruit and Curries
"The young jackfruit is a wonderful vegetarian alternative that’s high in fiber and low in carbohydrates," says Whittel. She suggests adding it to a flavorful curry, as it's brimming with polyphenols (which are good for your heart as they contain antioxidant properties). And, polyphenols activate autophagy, a process that maintains homeostasis and spurs new cell formation. "It'll help you hit a home run for a cellular detox," she says. "Enjoy a curry with some cooked butternut squash or over gently sautéed zucchini noodles."
Pork Chorizo and Scrambled Eggs
"Pork chorizo is high in natural fats, and combined with eggs, packs a good serving of protein and fat," says Whittel. She muses: "One of my favorite culinary adventures is to season my eggs with turmeric before scrambling, in order to sneak in a serving of natural anti-inflammatory and antidepressant medicinal compounds, as well as anti-aging qualities." The whole dish is warm and comforting, while remaining healthy and nutrient-rich. Whittel explains that the curcumin in turmeric plays a vital role in modulating inflammation, as well as offers mood-boosting properties and reduces blood sugar levels.
Spaghetti squash with tomato sauce provides natural sweetness and good-for-you carbs without having to go for traditional pasta, Hermoni explains. It's steamy and delicious in a nostalgic type of way, all the while as filling as a non-vegetable-centric meal. Plus, the tomato sauce incorporates the same red carotenoid lycopene as the aforementioned tomato soups.
"The temperature and spice in this broth will not only warm you up, it contains an abundance of healthy fats, a low carbohydrate intake, sea vegetables, fermented miso and coconut, and wild, pure cod," says Whittel.
Warm Coconut Milk
"There are so many culturally-specific traditions around the world that include enjoying a cup of warm milk to help calm the body and mind, as well as invite deeper sleep," says Whittel, She continues: "In my version of this ancient bedtime custom, I trade in dairy milk for anti-inflammatory coconut milk which is sweet, lusciously creamy and rich." Plus, there are a ton of health benefits associated with coconut milk, as it contains medium-chain triglycerides, which stimulate energy (rather than turning to fat in your body) through a process called thermogenesis. Curl up and relax with a nice, frothy cup.